It’s Wednesday night in America, and London’s The Vaccines are in San Francisco to rock Slim’s, the brick-and-mortar rock club founded by Boz Scaggs. Luckily for a mid-August crowd ready to roll — a mélange of ages and styles and levels of sobriety — the rockers on stage are decidedly not The Steve Miller Band.
They arrive on stage with an unassuming air, lead-singer Justin Hayward-Young‘s now relatively short hair looking more techie than rocker. They give off an early era rock-and-roll vibe, which smartly and fluidly modernizes from late 50s/early 60s roots until it arrives on the doorstep of The Ramones. The band consistently references early editions of the genre, albeit uniquely different than peers with a similar affectation for rock-and-roll’s foundations (see: The Raveonettes). Hayward-Young’s charisma is the show’s centerpiece, the singer exorcising his physical malaise (he’s fighting a cold) with vigorous lunges and shakes and struts and violence directed everywhere and nowhere, simultaneously.
The band summons up the spirit of the Stray Cats, thumping bass as a rocakabilly motif accompanies Hayward-Young as he actively summons audience adulation. It arrives, forthwith, and in moments we’re collectively engaged in an epic sing-a-long.
Go easy on me …. c‘mon c’mon…
It’s a moment. It’s a moment where learn that it’s not just a performance; our man in the spotlight is feeling it. Lights turn black cotton drapery into red velvet, and we lounge our way through a lovable lamentation. It’s evocative. It’s the best-feeling bad mood, ever.
So here we are in Anno Domini 2015, rocking with furious and perpetual abandon, and it becomes curious that no band has previously snagged this perfectly rock-and-roll moniker…The Vaccines. Meanwhile, someone decided that The Coasters was worth snagging in 1955. That’s not simply a digression, it’s a metaphor for how many good things in rock are largely unnoticed, while lesser acts and names and songs and personalities are somehow elevated to higher ground. As they authoritatively move from well-crafted song to well-crafted song, it’s clear: The Vaccines deserve greater renown.
The double entendre of “Melody Calling” resurrects the ’80s rock inflection of the pre-show music. It’s the mic-ing of drums, the holding of guitar notes, the yin and yang that never yields to catharsis.
As a reminiscence about post-breakup sex is sloshed about winningly, it’s clearly a topic with which this crowd has familiarity…or would like to, at the very least. The room is shaking, (induced by the rock rather than originating in the rocks below, thankfully), and then we reach a higher level of punk-laced rock-and-roll clarity as audience echoes performer with a mantra of sorts:
I’m no / Frankie Avalon / I’m no / teenage icon.
We’re witnessing the tension inherent in a rock band that combines the supposed simplicity of earlier times with punk leanings that are now 40 years old. This is a band that recognizes the value in the values of the past, and one trying to make it in a marketplace of millennials who have given themselves over to the unnuanced escapism of EDM. Instead, they do that British rock thing and they do it damn well, The Libertines sans drama and devastating drug habits. The Vaccines adeptly remind us what made rock great, and what could once again.
The encore starts with a Frank Turner moment: a guy and a guitar and a spotlight. The band returns, and we ramp to one of their most rocking tracks, “No Hope.” Its lyrics seem perfectly relatable to the youth of any modern generation, assuming that generation listens to lyrics. Mixing thoughts of self-awareness and self-obsession, the sentiments reach for the zeitgeist while remaining artfully grounded in self-doubt.
They’ve successfully lathered up the crowd, offering a professional progression of steadily rising steam that escapes without signs of obvious strain. Their excellent songwriting forsakes flourish, favoring simplicity, tried and true tactics, and melodies that vacuum up their audience’s attention. Our time together concludes with a toe-tapping homage to a gangly gal, Amanda Norgaard. The taut rocker is both classic and modern, a perfect example of their ouevre and the band itself, a tangible force of nature that marries stellar songwriting to excellent execution under the spotlight of simplicity.
* header photo: The Vaccines’ June 2013 performance at Governors Ball in New York City.